Study Guide

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Quotes

  • Mortality

    Chapter 1
    Oskar Schell

    Isn't it so weird how the number of dead people is increasing even though the earth stays the same size, so that one day there isn't going to be room to bury anyone anymore? (1.7)

    Yes, Oskar is a kid full of morbid trivia. This isn't unusual because his life has been defined by the death of his father. This is an example of how Oskar occupies himself with strange details to avoid the bigger emotional reality of his father's death.

    Chapter 3
    Oskar Schell

    "Your dad didn't die, so I won't be able to explain it to you." (3.37)

    Oskar's father's death is the central event of his life; he feels it defines him. As a result, he sometimes feels like he can't relate to people unless they've experienced the same level of trauma and grief. Kids who've lost a parent often feel isolated and misunderstood.

    Chapter 5
    Oskar Schell

    "So it will be OK if I throw away all of your things and forget about you after you die?" (5.48)

    Ouch. Oskar makes this hurtful remark to his Mom. The two of them have different ways of coping with Thomas's death. Oskar doesn't seem to understand that his Mom will never forget his Dad, whether she hangs on to his material belongings or not. As a child, Oskar may need more tangible things to deal with his grief.

    Chapter 7
    Oskar Schell

    "Do you have any coffee? […] It stunts my growth, and I'm afraid of death." (7.63)

    Even though Oskar is super clever, his youthful naïveté shines through here. Just because coffee stunts his growth doesn't mean that it extends his lifespan. The way this exchange with Mr. Black is described, it's funny how matter-of-fact Oskar is in telling him this.

    Chapter 9
    Minor Characters

    "Do you think any good can come from your father's death?" I kicked over my chair, threw his papers across the floor, and hollered, "No! Of course not, you fucking asshole!" (9.61)

    Oskar's obviously angry at his therapist for asking the question, and perhaps rightfully so. Oskar might eventually look back on his experience to see what he learned from it, but that's not where he's at emotionally at that moment. Oskar admits he really doesn't holler at Dr. Fein. He just wanted to. We think Dr. Fein's timing is pretty bad.

    She died in my arms, saying "I don't want to die." That is what death is like. (9.22)

    This is an excerpt from the gruesome interview with a Hiroshima survivor that Oskar plays for his class—the stark testimony from a woman watching her daughter die. While girls in his class were crying, Oskar goes on to describe the physics of how people are killed and charred in an atomic explosion. Another example of how shut-down he can be: he presents this hugely emotional testimony in class, but ignores the emotion.

    Chapter 13
    Oskar Schell

    If I could know how he died, exactly how he died, I wouldn't have to invent him dying inside an elevator that was stuck between floors, which happened to some people, and I wouldn't have to imagine him trying to crawl down the outside of the building, which I saw a video of one person doing on a Polish site, or trying to use a tablecloth as a parachute […] There were so many different ways to die, and I just need to know which was his. (13.138)

    Oskar pours his heart out to his grandfather about how he's tormented by all the images of what might have happened to his father. It was the case with most of the families of 9/11 victims that they never knew how their loved ones died. No remains. Empty caskets. Just horrible possibilities to imagine and no closure. Grandpa's probably had the same thoughts about his family that was killed in Dresden.

    I thought about all of the things that everyone ever says to each other, and how everyone is going to die, whether it's in a millisecond or days, or months, or 76.5 years, if you were just born. Everything that's born has to die, which means our lives are like skyscrapers. The smoke rises at different speeds, but they're all on fire, and we're all trapped. (13.83)

    Yikes, this is dark. But a kid whose Dad died in 9/11 would use the same sort of gruesome imagery as a metaphor for death. You can see how meaningless life seems for him since his father died.

    Chapter 14

    The message was cut off, you sounded so calm, you didn't sound like someone who was about to die (14.1)

    Oskar's Dad must have been frantic and terrified in his last moments. He was probably trying to sound calm just to spare Oskar and his Mom from the terror. It's comforting to think that maybe he did come to some acceptance of his hopeless situation, but we don't know that. It's a sign of his love for his family that he tried to be calm and reassuring.

    Chapter 16
    Oskar Schell

    "How come you didn't die in the accident?" Mom said, "That's enough, Oskar." Ron said, "I wasn't in the car." "Why weren't you in the car?" Mom looked out the window. Ron ran his finger around his plate and said "I don't know." (16.2)

    There could be a million reasons Ron didn't happen to be in the car when his wife and daughter were killed in the accident. But that doesn't stop him from having survivor guilt because he lived and they didn't. He had no role in their deaths, but you can tell in this passage that he still wonders why he didn't die. This randomness of death is something that Oskar struggles with.

  • Love

    Chapter 1
    Oskar Schell

    "Sometimes people who seem good end up being not as good as you might have hoped, you know? What if she had stolen our things?" "She wouldn't." "But what if?" "But she wouldn't." […] she was obviously mad at me, but I didn't know why.

    […] I could tell that she really didn't love me. (1.6-7)

    Oskar misinterprets his mother's anger as lack of love. His father's death has left him very sensitized to any signs of detachment on his Mom's part.

    She was wearing the bracelet that I made for her, and that made me feel like one hundred dollars. I love making jewelry for her, because it makes her happy, and making her happy is another one of my raisons d'être. (1.9)

    You know the phrase "Love is a verb?" Well, despite Oskar's reservations about Mom, he's always doing loving things for her, like making jewelry or protecting her from the phone messages from Dad in his last moments.

    "Dad?" "Yeah, buddy?" "Nothing." (1.35)

    This exchange between Oskar and his Dad is repeated a few times throughout the novel. Obviously, it's a memory that haunts Oskar. We see that the "nothing" was a missed opportunity to say "I love you."

    Chapter 3

    And maybe you could rate the people you knew by how much you loved them, so if the device in the middle of the ambulance detected the device of the person he loved the most, or the person he loved the most, and the person in the ambulance was really badly hurt, and might even die, the ambulance could flash

    GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU! GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU! (3.66)

    This is a good example of how the boundaries between grief and love are still pretty porous for Oskar. This invention would make sure that you got to say goodbye to someone you loved before they died—something Oskar never got to do. Later, he makes a list and rates the people he loves. Dad, of course is first on the list.

    Chapter 4

    When I was your age, my grandfather bought me a ruby bracelet. It was too big for me and would slide up and down my arm. […] Its size was supposed to be a symbol of his love. More rubies, more love. But I could not wear it comfortably. I could not wear it at all. So here is the point of everything I have been trying to say. If I were to give a bracelet to you, now, I would measure your wrist twice. (4.29)

    This is the final paragraph from Grandma's letter from her own Grandmother. It's a powerful statement of love. Are you truly loving someone if your love doesn't "fit" them? Great-great Grandma seems to think it's not good enough to love someone… you have to love them the way they need to be loved.

    Chapter 5
    Grandma

    One afternoon, I mentioned to Grandma that I was considering starting a stamp collection, and the next afternoon she had three albums for me and—"because I love you so much it hurts me, and because I want your wonderful collection to have a wonderful beginning"—a sheet of stamps of Great American Inventors. (5.57)

    Oskar's Grandma is totally devoted to him and wants everything good for him. But her love's also tinged with grief; she knows that you can lose people you love.

    Chapter 10
    Grandpa (Thomas Schell, Sr. aka The Renter)

    Maybe […] if I'd said, "I'm so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything," maybe that would have made the impossible possible. (10.1)

    Grandpa's pretty much confessing to never truly loving Grandma here. He shut himself off from love after losing Anna. If he had told Grandma this right away, well, she probably still would have married him. But maybe he wouldn't have felt like he was living a lie and had to leave.

    Chapter 11

    "The boy covered his can with a lid, removed it from the string, and put her love for him on a shelf in his closet. Of course, he never could open the can, because then he would lose its contents. It was enough just to know it was there." (11.28)

    This tale within a tale of Sixth Borough seems to have the opposite moral however. The boy traps love in a can, but he can't experience without losing it. Is love as fragile and finite as this story makes it seem?

    Chapter 15
    Oskar Schell

    They knew I was coming.

    Mom had talked to all of them before I had.

    Even Mr. Black was part of it. […] she probably told him to go around with me, and keep me company, and keep me safe. (15.49-51)

    Oskar finally realizes that his mother has known all along about his journey and was always in the background, protecting him. We'd call that love. He recognizes it, too. At the cemetery, Oskar comes to terms with his father's death to some extent. When he gets back, he gives his Mom permission to move on with her life, maybe even fall in love again. Love wins this round.

    Chapter 16
    Grandma

    And how can you say I love you to someone you love?

    Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you, Oskar.

    It's always necessary.

    I love you,

    Grandma (16.240-16.244)

    The main point of Grandma's long, long letter is to let Oskar know that he should always express the love he feels. You never know when that opportunity will be your last. Of course, she leaves without letting Oskar say goodbye or "I love you" to her, so what does that say?

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Chapter 1
    Dad (Thomas Schell)

    "But if there isn't a reason, then why does the universe exist at all?" […] "Well, what I don't get is why do we exist? I don't mean how, but why." […] He said, "We exist because we exist." "What the?" "We could imagine all sorts of universes unlike this one, but this is the one that happened."

    I understood what he meant, and I didn't disagree with him, but I didn't agree with him either. Just because you're an atheist, that doesn't mean you wouldn't love for things to have reasons for why they are. (1.37-38)

    Just your typical bedtime conversation about the reasons for existence. Oskar wants reasons; his father's point is that you have to embrace the uncertainty. He's not a religious man, so he can't give Oskar the kind of answer that a person of faith might give. Oskar's not old enough to have his father's nuanced perspective on life. After he loses his father, these "whys" take on even more importance for him.

    Oskar Schell

    The more I found, the less I understood. (1.28)

    Although Oskar's talking about his Dad's vague scavenger hunt here, the author seems to be using this as a metaphor. Especially at Oskar's age, it seems like the more you learn, the more questions you end up having.

    Chapter 3
    Oskar Schell

    It would have been a logical explanation, which is always the best kind, although fortunately it isn't the only kind. (3.23)

    You can think of Oskar's search for the meaning of "Black" as metaphor for a search for the meaning of life. And for this question, there is no logical explanation. Being the intellectual and obsessive kid that he is, Oskar always starts with logic when he's trying to find answers, but he's glad that there are other ways to explain things. That sounds like something his Dad would have taught him.

    Chapter 4
    Grandma

    I wish I could be a girl again, with the chance to live my life again. I have suffered so much more than I needed to. And the joys I have felt have not always been joyous. I could have lived differently. (4.28)

    This is Oskar's grandmother thinking about her many regrets and wishing for a do-over. Most of what she writes, she writes as lessons for Oskar, and this one seems to be: there are no second chances, so it's important to act and make smart decisions the firstand onlytime around.

    Chapter 5
    Oskar Schell

    I read the first chapter of A Brief History of Time when Dad was still alive, and I got incredibly heavy boots about how relatively insignificant life is, and how, compared to the universe and compared to time, it didn't even matter if I existed at all. (5.1)

    Stephen Hawking is probably the world's most famous cosmologist. It's exciting to learn about these things, but the larger the universe seems, the smaller we humans seem by comparison. If you're prone to anxiety and obsessing, like Oskar, you can get depressed contemplating your role in the universe.

    Dad (Thomas Schell)

    "What would happen if a plane dropped you in the middle of the Sahara Desert and you picked up a single grain of sand with tweezers and moved it one millimeter?" […] "I guess I would have moved a grain of sand." […] "Which would mean you changed the Sahara." (5.1)

    Dad tries to offset the existential despair Oskar is feeling after reading Stephen Hawking by telling him that every little action changes the universe in some way. The only way the universe stays the same is if you don't do anything.

    Chapter 6
    Grandma

    "Aren't my life and my feelings the same thing?" (6.1)

    Grandma asks a good question here. Aren't our lives simply what we make of them? How much of what you consider your life is made up of things that happen to you, and how much is made up of how you react to these things?

    Chapter 7

    I felt that night, on that stage, under that skull, incredibly close to everything in the universe, but also extremely alone. I wondered, for the first time in my life, if life was worth all the work it took to live. What exactly made it worth it? What's so horrible about being dead forever, and not feeling anything, and not even dreaming? What's so great about feeling and dreaming? (7.19)

    First of all, who thought that it was a good idea to give a kid who lost his Dad the part of Yorick (dead, just a dug-up skull) in a school play? Anyway, leave it to Shakespeare to trigger the big questions in life. Oskar finds it hard to go on having to manage his grief every day. We hope Dr. Fein can shape up and help him.

    Chapter 12
    Grandma

    When I looked at you, my life made sense. Even the bad things made sense. They were necessary to make you possible. (12.216)

    Grandma sees life's meaning in future generations, and she accepts everything that has happened—the good and the bad—as essential to creating Oskar. There are a lot of random things in the universe that have to align to make life happen.

    Chapter 15

    The vast majority of the universe is composed of dark matter. The fragile balance depends on things we'll never be able to see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. Life itself depends on them. What's real? What isn't real? Maybe those aren't the right questions to be asking. What does life depend on? (15.140)

    This question is posed by a fictional version of Stephen Hawking, but it sounds like something he'd ruminate on, doesn't it? Does life have any meaning at all? Isn't all meaning just something we humans cook up to explain why things are the way they are?

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    Chapter 1

    There was nothing, which would have been unfortunate, unless nothing was a clue. Was nothing a clue? (1.21)

    Because the Reconnaissance Expeditions didn't have rules or many clues, it forced Oskar to think creatively and enjoy the process. His father probably knew how Oskar always liked having a logical answer, and the Expeditions were a way to get him to think out of the box.

    A great game that Dad and I would sometimes play on Sundays was Reconnaissance Expedition. (1.20)

    When Dad was alive, he's often organize little scavenger hunts for Oskar, like this one, where he'd have to find certain items in Central Park. Oskar thinks his Dad might have still left clues for him even after he died, like the key in the vase.

    Chapter 3
    Oskar Schell

    I ran home and did some more research, and I found 472 people with the name Black in New York. There were 216 different addresses, because some of the Blacks lived together, obviously. (3.39)

    That's some great detective work, kid. If we ever need to find somebody (or just need an Excel spreadsheet done up) we're definitely contacting Oskar Schell.

    I did some research on the Internet about the locks of New York, and I found out a lot of useful information. (3.19)

    For someone as inquisitive as Oskar, you can imagine what a treasure-trove of facts the Internet is for him. When he researches locks, he gets preoccupied with numbers and facts. It's this quality, along with Oskar's difficulty in social situations, that's one of the reasons some people think that Foer created Oskar as someone with Asperger's syndrome.

    I Googled around and found out that Black wasn't the name of a company that made lockboxes. (3.23)

    Most kids would just give up at this point, but not Oskar. He employs some hardcore critical thinking skills to track down the mystery of the key.

    Chapter 5
    Oskar Schell

    "So what's on the menu?" "Queens and Greenwich Village." "You mean Gren-ich Village?" (5.5)

    This passage shows that, for all his smarts, Oskar doesn't yet have a lot of real-world savvy outside his own immediate experience. You have to wonder if he knows how to pronounce all those French phrases he tosses around, like raison d'être.

    Chapter 7
    Oskar Schell

    I decided that it would be better to Google Winston Churchill when I got home, instead of mentioning that I didn't know who he was. (7.60)

    A wise move, Oskar. By holding his tongue, he avoids listening to a lengthy and loud history shouted at him by Mr. Black.

    "I've lived long enough to know I'm not one-hundred-percent anything." (7.66)

    Oskar isn't the only clever character in this book. Mr. Black, who has more than hundred years behind him, knows that no matter how wise he gets, he'll never know everything. In fact, it seems like the older you get, the less you know. Or the more you know what you don't know. Or something like that.

    Chapter 9

    Because the radiant heat traveled in straight lines from the explosion, scientists were able to determine the direction toward the hypocenter from a number of different points, by observing the shadows cast by intervening objects. (9.24)

    Sometimes Oskar's cleverness comes at the expense of emotional sensitivity. In this instance, he focuses on the science behind the atomic bomb, while ignoring all the death that happened as a result of the blast. A lot of the kids in class were crying by this point.

    Chapter 17
    Oskar Schell

    I don't think I figured out that he was my grandpa, not even in the deep parts of my brain. I definitely didn't make the connection between the letters in his suitcases and the letters in Grandma's dresser, even if I should have.

    But I must have understood something, I must have, because why else would I have opened my left hand? (17.69-70)

    Here's Oskar realizing that there's knowledge that lies outside the realm of logic. He was responding to the emotional connection to the man who turns out to be his grandpa, and that this is also a way of knowing.

  • Language and Communication

    Chapter 2
    Grandpa (Thomas Schell, Sr. aka The Renter)

    I haven't always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk, I couldn't keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer. (2.1)

    Grandpa is silent, and he has to write everything down in order to communicate. But from his way of writing, all the comma splices, like we're writing right now, we can tell that he used to be a person that would talk and talk and talk, he writes like he must have talked.

    Chapter 3

    Sometimes [Grandma will] write notes for me on her window, which I can see through my binoculars, and once Dad and I spent a whole afternoon trying to design a paper airplane that we could throw from our apartment into hers. (3.57)

    It's interesting that Oskar and his Grandma were communicating in this way before his Dad died. He probably wasn't afraid of the phone then. Why do you think they experimented with communication in this way?

    Oskar Schell

    I got out of bed, went over to the window, and picked up the walkie-talkie. (3.54)

    Oskar and his Grandma stay close by communicating via walkie-talkie. It's a handy way for Oskar to keep in touch with her, because he's afraid of using the phone. The walkie-talkie allows for a bit of distance, which is more comfortable for Oskar. It's a clever work-around for his fear of phones.

    Chapter 4

    I read newspapers and magazines all day long. I wanted to learn idioms. I wanted to become a real American. (4.31)

    For Grandma, part of becoming an American is speaking like an American. She wants to blend in, not stand out, and the best way to do that is to learn the language.

    Chapter 9
    Minor Characters

    "I'm going to say a word, a person's name, or even a sound. Whatever. There are no right or wrong answers here. No rules. Should we give it a try?" (9.60)

    Dr. Fein plays a classic word association game with Oskar, one that tells us a lot about what's going on in Oskar's head and illustrates the sometimes unique way he communicates. ("Celebrate." "Ruff, ruff." "Was that a bark?" "Anyway.")

    Chapter 10
    Grandpa (Thomas Schell, Sr. aka The Renter)

    Every day I write a letter to you. (10.1)

    Isn't it crazy that a man who's mute writes so many words to his son? And even though he writes all these words, he never sends them; he's mute even in writing.

    Chapter 11

    "The string between them grew incredibly long, so long it had to be extended with many other strings tied together." (11.26)

    People being separated from each other as the Sixth Borough floats away go to great lengths (ha!) to stay in communication with one another. But the farther away people get, the harder it is to communicate. This must have been in the days before WhatsApp.

    Chapter 13

    "He told me to go up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, and as he walked around New York, he'd occasionally shine the light up at me so I could see where he was." (13.108)

    Ruth Black's husband had a way to communicate with her, and it was to shine a lantern as he walked around the city. It kept them close, even when he was far away. But when he died, she wasn't sure what to do. Her whole life seems to have been defined by this connection between her and her husband.

    "I not know was New York. In Chinese, ny mean 'you.' Thought was 'I love you.'" (13.63)

    Fo Black makes a humorous miscommunication error, wearing an I ♥ NY shirt, thinking the shirt just means "you" instead of a city. It's sweet, and his meaning kind of makes more sense. Shouldn't we love the people in a city more than the city itself?

    Chapter 14
    Grandpa (Thomas Schell, Sr. aka The Renter)

    I broke my life down into letters, for love I pressed "5, 6, 8, 3," for death, "3, 3, 2, 8, 4." (14.1)

    Here's a method of communicating you probably haven't seen since puzzle books in elementary school: using a telephone keypad to talk. What follows is a nearly indecipherable sequence of hundreds of numbers. It's impossible to understand what Grandpa is saying by <em>reading </em>the numbers, so imagine trying to decipher this by <em>tone. </em>No wonder Grandma hangs up. Another colossal failure of communication, even though the emotion behind it was pretty intense.

  • Identity

    Chapter 2
    Grandpa (Thomas Schell, Sr. aka The Renter)

    If someone asked me, "Are you Thomas?" I would answer, "Not no," but then I lost "no." (2.1)

    How do you assert your identity when you can't say who you are? One of the last words Grandpa loses is "I," almost as though he's desperately trying to hang on to who he is. When your world's destroyed, who are you now? Grandpa's answer? Nobody.

    Chapter 3
    Oskar Schell

    "It doesn't make me feel good when you say that something I do reminds you of Dad." (3.26)

    Oskar doesn't want to be defined by his relationship to his father. He wants to be his own person. However, at this age, most of what he's doing are things he learned from his father. It'll take time for him to grow into his own.

    Chapter 4

    He looked at me as he sculpted, but he saw [Anna]. (4.111)

    Grandma's husband is still in love with her dead sister, Anna. She has trouble trying to define her own identity apart from "Anna's sister." But she is always more "Anna's sister" than she is "wife" to Grandpa.

    Chapter 5
    Oskar Schell

    OSKAR SCHELL: INVENTOR, JEWELRY DESIGNER, JEWELRY FABRICATOR, AMATEUR ENTOMOLOGIST, FRANCOPHILE, VEGAN, ORIGAMIST, PACIFIST, PERCUSSIONIST […] (5.34)

    Oskar lists about 12 different titles and six things he collects on his little business card. At his age, Oskar's identity is best defined by his hobbies and interests. Obviously, he's still trying to figure himself out. Kids are always trying on lots of identities to see what fits. That's kind of the job of childhood.

    Chapter 6

    She said, "There's nothing wrong with not understanding yourself." (6.1)

    This is good advice from Anna to Grandpa that Oskar would benefit from hearing. You can be yourself even if you don't understand yourself 100%. Oskar's always trying to find the answers, but it's okay not to have them, particular if you're young. Your identity will emerge as you grow up.

    Chapter 7

    "Even if I don't like what I am, I know what I am. My children like what they are, but they don't know what they are. So tell me which is worse." "What are the options again?" (7.53)

    Ada Black is rich and has a fancy apartment and a maid. Oskar implies that this is unfair—he remembers what his father said about how everyone should have the same amount of stuff. But Ada's not defensive about it. She accepts herself without having to approve of her lifestyle. Oskar doesn't quite get this.

    Chapter 9

    "Maybe that's what a person's personality is: the difference between the inside and the outside." (9.57)

    Dr. Fein, Oskar's therapist, could mean a number of things here. Perhaps our personality is a combination of how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.

    Mom

    Oskar is Oskar, and no one… that's a wonderful thing. (9.100)

    We can only make out part of the conversation between Dr. Fein and Mom, but we're pretty sure this is Mom talking here, and she's defending her son for being himself. Dr. Fein sees him as pretty disturbed and worries about his safety.

    Chapter 12

    That beautiful person is mine! Mine! When I was watching you, I was so proud and so sad. Alas. His lips. Your songs. (12.213-12.215)

    As much as Oskar wants to be his own person, he will always remind his Mom and Grandma of his father. That's genetics for you.

    Chapter 15

    OSKAR SCHELL: SON (15.5)

    This is what it says on Mr. Black's biography card of Oskar. Before Mr. Black meets Oskar, he identifies him as "Son," based on a phone call we now know he received from Oskar's mother. This is Oskar's defining characteristic. We think Oskar would agree—since his father died, his entire experienced is shaped by that fact.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Chapter 3
    Minor Characters

    [Stan] asked, "Where's Mr. Feeling Sick going?" I told him, "To the drugstore on Eighty-fourth to get some cough drops." Lie #3. (3.12)

    Oskar not only lies, he keeps track of the number of lies he tells. It's a little self-destructive, making the lies out to be a lot worse than they actually are. But Oskar knows how much his Dad valued "the truth," so he tries to make every effort to be honest.

    Oskar Schell

    I knew I could never let Mom hear the messages, because protecting her is one of my most important raisons d'être. (3.46)

    We wonder if Oskar was told this by his father, that he's supposed to protect his mother. We're also uncertain if hiding his Dad's final messages from his Mom is protecting her from anything she doesn't already know.

    Obviously, there's no need to call me when Oskar doesn't come to his lessons, because I already know, because this was my decision. (3.39)

    We can't imagine Oskar's French teacher falling for this forged letter from Oskar's mother. He's not as good at lying as he thinks he is. If only he were doing Macbeth instead of Hamlet he might understand "the lady doth protest too much."

    Chapter 4
    Grandma

    I took the letter straight to my room. I put it under my mattress. I never told my father or mother about it. (4.7)

    We're not sure why Grandma decides to keep this letter a secret from her parents. Would anything have changed if she had told them about it?

    Chapter 5

    I wouldn't lie unless I absolutely had to, which I did a lot. (5.4)

    Oskar eventually has to stop keeping track of all the lies he's telling because he has told so many. When lying becomes the norm, it starts to seem a little more acceptable.

    Oskar Schell

    In exchange for the lie, I made a promise to myself that when I got a raise in my allowance, I would donate part of that raise to people who in reality do have diabetes. (5.17)

    Oskar feels the need to pay some sort of penance for lying. The funny part in this case is that he does: he sends fifty cents to diabetes research. Well, it was a small lie.

    Chapter 6
    Oskar Schell

    I could live a lie, but not bring myself to tell that small one. (6.1)

    The size of lies is interesting to ponder. Grandpa has no problem pretending that he loves Grandma, or leaving without telling her goodbye, but he can't lie to her when she asks if he's wearing sunscreen. Why does he choose that moment to be honest?

    Chapter 13
    Grandpa (Thomas Schell, Sr. aka The Renter)

    "Who are you?" He went to the next page and wrote, "My name is Thomas." (13.49)

    This is a little deceitful. The "renter" tells the truth by saying his name is Thomas, but he doesn't tell the whole truth: that he is Oskar's grandfather. Why does he keep this secret, even when face-to-face with his own grandson? Who's he protecting?

    Chapter 16
    Grandpa (Thomas Schell, Sr. aka The Renter)

    He wrote, I want to get you some magazines. (16.18)

    Oh, Grandpa, this old lie again? He rolls out the same lie with Grandma years later but she sees through it this time. She knows this lie is code for "I'm leaving you. Again."

    Chapter 17
    Oskar Schell

    Why hadn't [Mom] told me she was in a group? (17.1)

    Oskar has trouble realizing that his Mother seems to not tell him a lot of things in order to protect him. However, it seems like her secrets cause more misunderstanding than they do protect Oskar from harm.

  • Fear

    Chapter 3
    Oskar Schell

    A lot of the time I'd get that feeling like I was in the middle of a huge black ocean, or in deep space, but not in the fascinating way. (3.2)

    This is how Oskar tries to describe his panic and fear, about things like bridges, airplanes, and fireworks. He retreats inside himself when he gets scared. What he expresses here isn't a specific phobia, though; it's a general feeling of being lost and disconnected.

    Chapter 5
    Oskar Schell

    It took me three hours and forty-one minutes to walk to Aaron Black, because public transportation makes me panicky. (5.6)

    Oskar goes to great lengths to avoid confronting his fears. It may take him a long time to get where he's going, but at least he gets there. But you can see how his fears are controlling his life.

    Chapter 7
    Oskar Schell

    Obviously I'm incredibly panicky about roller coasters, but Abe convinced me to ride one with him. (7.45)

    This is when we start noticing that Oskar is facing his fears. Maybe that was part of his Mom's plan, once she started talking to all the Blacks: to get them to help Oskar overcome things he's scared about. It takes engagement with another person to help him face things.

    Chapter 9
    Oskar Schell

    I get panicky about being away from Mom. I'm not very good with people. (9.57)

    We're not sure if Oskar is lying here, or if this used to be true and now it no longer is. There's barely a page that goes by in this book where Oskar isn't on his own and talking to strangers with relative ease.

    Chapter 10
    Oskar Schell

    I was terrified of my own image, my blood-matted hair, my split and bleeding lips, my red, pulsing palms. (10.1)

    Grandpa doesn't seem scared when the bombs fall on Dresden, probably because of adrenaline and shock. It's not until he has a moment in which he really sees himself in the aftermath that fear sets in.

    Chapter 12
    Grandma

    All afternoon I knitted that scarf for you. It grew longer and longer. (12.141)

    The scarf that never ends is a good symbol for Grandma's fear. She passes it on to Oskar, who uses it to wrap the phone with dad's last message on it.

    I haven't heard from him either. I'm worried. (12.31-12.33)

    This is a moment of terrible, terrible fear: the dawning realization in both Grandma and Mom that they may have lost Dad in the September 11th attacks. Like when Grandpa lived through the bombing, it takes a while for the true fear to set in. It begins as worry and anxiety.

    Chapter 13

    It had taken us four hours to get to her house. Two of those were because Mr. Black had to convince me to get on the Staten Island Ferry. (13.66)

    Again, we see Oskar conquering his fear with a little help from Mr. Black who employs some impeccable (if morbid) logic. He tells Oskar that he'd feel bad if he didn't go, and if he dies, well, he won't feel anything at all.

    Chapter 16
    Grandma

    I don't know if I've ever loved your grandfather. But I've loved not being alone. (16.92-16.93)

    Grandma doesn't stay with Grandpa out of love; she stays with him because she's afraid of being alone. Wouldn't it be easier to join a knitting group or Zumba class or something? Do you think many people stay in relationships out of fear?

    Chapter 17
    Oskar Schell

    I read that it was paper that kept the towers burning. […] Maybe if we lived in a paperless society, which lots of scientists say we'll probably live in one day soon, Dad would still be alive. Maybe I shouldn't start a new volume. (17.139)

    Oskar is eerily reliving Grandma's fear that all the papers she kept somehow contributed to her house fire during the Dresden bombing. Oskar even considers not keeping so many papers in the future, because doing so might cause more people to die. This is a kind of magical thinking that people do when things seem impossibly scary.